Leading for Results, Part 2 – Stretch Goals

Leadership is hard work. Leadership is lonely work. It seems that for every success and innovation one has, there this someone who attempts to tear it down, bit by bit, eroding that feeling of success. Reflecting on Day 2 of my workshop with Dennis Sparks on the way home from from NSDC, I am realizing that true leaders must accept that it is not going to be easy, but it will be rewarding. And that the power of a support network is absolutely critical to success.

Day 2 of the workshop used the “I want” cards that we began the day before. We brainstormed a few more cards after being reminded that anything we viewed as a challenge or a problem were really thwarted intentions. For example – “The IT guy won’t unblock Blogspot so that I can blog with my students” is really:

1. I want to have my students express their thoughts and opinions, receive feedback on them and reflect on their learning using blogs.

2. I want the IT department to trust that I will monitor my students’ use of the Internet.

3. I want the IT department to work with me to discover alternatives they feel safe with in order to help me meet my objectives with my students.

We were then asked to select one “I want” card that were we to get it on Christmas morning would have a significant impact in our life. We were reminded that as human beings and particularly as educators, we operate from a point of view that when we select a goal if we don’t already have an idea of how to achieve it, then it is not a reasonable goal and therefore we won’t make much progress. We needed to brush that notion aside and remember that it is easier to achieve substantial change than to do it incremental steps. Citing Change or Die (one of my favorite books), Sparks reminded us that a larger goal requires a fundamental change in our belief system and is therefore more likely to result in change. We were going to take our “I want” statement and make a stretch goal.

We started by re-writing the card for paradise. “I want the IT department to trust that I will monitor my students’ use of the Internet” became “I want the IT department to provide me completely open access to aspects of the Internet to use with my students.” We then had to take that card and rewrite it again, only four times bigger. This was extremely difficult to do because frankly, my new statement was Nirvana!! But after thinking about it aloud with my group it became “I want the IT department to provide all teachers and student with open access to the Internet and for all teachers and students to know how to use it responsibly and effectively.” Not sure that it is Paradise times 4 but you get the picture.

The notion of stretch goals is extremely powerful and it is certainly something to think about when creating a clear vision for the future. However, I know from previous experience that goals that are set too big with no measure of how close we come to achieving it or a feeling of little success can often lead to frustration. I know that my stretch goal of looking like Beyonce by this time next year is an extremely ambitious goal. And while amusing – it does seem terribly impracticable. When it comes to health and my weight, it has always been more worthwhile to set a goal of losing X pounds or exercising for X minutes per day. And while in reality I will never resemble Sasha Fierce – it does cause me to think about what I really want as a fitness goal in reality and make that more clear.

No matter what stretch goals I set – I cannot achieve them without support.

Whether it is the IT goal or my fitness goal, I need to have others there to listen, to encourage, to take action with me. And those people will not be able to do that unless I am absolutely clear about where I want to be. It means that everyone needs to practice committed listening. Not active listening, not listening to respond, not listening to defend – just listening.

As we practiced this with others in the room, I realized that this is difficult to do and that I don’t do it often enough. Many of my conversations involve me doing more than one thing: typing an email, checking my feeds, cleaning out a drawer – just about anything than just listening. If I want people to hear me, I need to start to listen to them.

Returning to work tomorrow – I have set some goals for myself:

1. Practice committed listening with at least one other person every day.

2. Be clear about what I want – and turn those goals into stretch goals.

3. Focus on the assets, not the deficits.

4. Work with my signature strengths.

Not a timid list by any means – but it is the time of year for resolutions isn’t it?

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